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FEMA Ready to Give Quake Aid for Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico Governor Wanda Vazquez Garced this morning declared a state of emergency in the territory after an earthquake that measured 6.4 on the Richter Magnitude Scale, and asked President Trump to do the same.

This morning’s most serious quake followed one yesterday, the Three Kings Day holiday, which had a magnitude of 5.8 and numerous smaller tremors that began December 28th.

The Governor said that she expected more quakes, and called up the National Guard.

A White House spokesperson said today that the President has been informed about the earthquakes, including this morning’s, and that Administration officials, including Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) interim Administrator Pete Gaynor, have been in touch with Gov. Vazquez. FEMA personnel have been monitoring the situation since at least yesterday.

“As in all emergencies, FEMA will provide support to municipal and Commonwealth officials if requested officially, and if granted by the President,” said FEMA Press Secretary Lizzie Litzow said. She added that, “We have distribution centers around the island and four warehouses stocked with items such as water, ready-to-eat meals, generators and other supplies.”

The PROMESA Financial Board authorized the use of $130 million in Emergency Reserve Funds for Fiscal Years 2019 and ’20 through the end of this month.

The territory’s Resident Commissioner in the U.S. House of Representatives, Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon was joined by fellow Republicans Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, the Senators from Florida, in writing Trump to request the aid of FEMA, the Department of Transportation and its Federal Highway Administration, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Army Corps of Engineers, “and all others with jurisdiction and capabilities to promptly provide the necessary support.” Scott also called to emphasize the request.

Democrats took the opportunity to criticize the President for the slow disbursement of Hurricane Maria recovery assistance as well as to ask for prompt action on aid for this latest disaster. House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raul Grijalva called on the Trump Administration to disburse “still unused” Maria funding “and prepare to release earthquake disaster aid without delay.” He added that, “The Trump Administration’s indifference and incompetence have already cost residents of Puerto Rico their lives and their livelihoods, and continuing that pattern now is unacceptable.”

The earthquakes have been centered in the coastal areas of the central southern part of the island of Puerto Rico. This morning’s biggest quake is responsible for the death of a man in the city of Ponce. Electricity for 1.1 million Electric Power Authority (PREPA) customers has been knocked out, and 300,000 Aqueduct and Sewer Authority subscribers have lost water service.

Numerous homes, other buildings, and vehicles have been damaged, particularly in the towns of Guanica and Guayanilla, and there have been landslides on roads. Damage to a prison caused the relocation of inmates. A few hundred people have sought refuge in shelters so far.

Vazquez suspended normal work for government employees today and public school classes until Monday.

Updated January 7, 2020 at 4:43 pm

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